No sooner has the result of the EU referendum just about sunk in, we now have a new Prime Minister, after initially being told we would have to wait until September to settle on David Cameron’s successor. And the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, wasn’t keen on hanging around. Within a matter of days she has undertaken a major cabinet reshuffle that has sparked huge controversy and excitement in the media.
The BBC’s Norman Smith described it as a ‘brutal reshuffle’ and indeed balled those exact words across Downing Street as Mrs May walked into number 10 last Thursday afternoon.
Was 14th July, as some have described it, the ‘day of long knives’? – Some have suggested it was akin to Harold MacMillan’s ‘night of long knives’ – not to be confused with Hitler’s SA purge – in 1962, in which a third of his cabinet was ousted. MacMillan’s purge is, perhaps until now, regarded as the most brutal cabinet reshuffle in modern British political history.
May’s new cabinet features great gender equality and politicians from a range of social backgrounds which, in my opinion, are essential for representative democracy to flourish. Diversity is brilliant for the Conservatives as the Party slowly moves away from the ‘nasty party’ attitude many people came to associate it with under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership in the 1980s.
“This sort of social diversity is excellent for the Tory Party if they are to shake off the shackles of their elitist past”
The new cabinet is 70% state educated, which means it has the lowest proportion of privately educated ministers since Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour Government. This sort of social diversity is excellent for the Tory Party if they are to shake off the shackles of their elitist past. May seems to be attempting to move away from the ‘posh boy’ stigma attached to the party under George Osborne and David Cameron’s leadership; perfectly demonstrated by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries’ tweet on Wednesday: “It’s over. The posh boys have gone”.
Mrs May can also boast to have the highest number of women in her cabinet compared to any previous government. Most notably, Amber Rudd was promoted to Home Secretary, along with Justine Greening and Liz Truss joining the cabinet as Education and Justice Secretaries respectively. Only last year Greening announced she was in a same-sex relationship. However, will we ever know what happened to Stephen Crabb – the poster-boy of “compassionate Conservatism” – who visited Downing Street on the day of the reshuffle, only to subsequently resign from the government?
Bold choices were also made for the new positions of Secretary of State for Leaving the EU, as well as International Trade.
“I am greatly looking forward to Boris’s apology for suggesting that the Turkish president had sexual relations with a goat”
These positions have been filled by David Davis and Liam Fox, two prominent Brexit campaigners. Additionally, the formidable Andrea Leadsom – shining light of the Leave campaign and Theresa May’s main rival in the Conservative leadership election – was promoted to Environment Secretary. It’s going to be entertaining when she has to explain to UK farmers that they will no longer be receiving their annual EU subsidies. I imagine Mrs May will have a private chuckle about this.
One of the most interesting and controversial decisions on that Wednesday evening was Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary. My view, which is probably not shared by many, is that this decision may well have been a stroke of genius and was by far the most surprising ministerial promotion. With Philip Hammond taking up residence at number 11 Downing Street, Boris Johnson will have a key role in negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU and will therefore need to tone down the the rhetoric that has made him such a controversial figure in the past. I am greatly looking forward to Boris’s apology for suggesting that the Turkish president had sexual relations with a goat. These tactless jibes at important international figures will have to stop if Johnson is to be a success at the Foreign Office.
Then there is Jeremy Hunt. What a strange political phenomenon he is. Just when we all thought he was down and out for the count, with every junior doctor in the country waiting with bated breath, Mr Hunt miraculously came back from the dead as it was announced he would, contrary to previous reports, be resuming his post as Health Secretary. I honestly thought Mr Hunt would be back of the queue for this role and was genuinely shocked at the decision. But does Mrs May really believe in Jeremy Hunt’s NHS reforms as Cameron did? I’m not so sure.
“Admittedly, I thought Mrs May would simply be David Cameron mark 2”
Indeed, many of Cameron’s closest allies have been axed from the cabinet table, which has been seen by many as a statement of intent from Theresa May. Admittedly, I thought Mrs May would simply be David Cameron mark 2 when I found out she was running for leadership of the Conservatives. But I now realise how wrong I was. May is strongly independent and will follow an agenda quite different to that of previous Conservative governments. Indeed, it seems that Mrs May is the only person who seems to have kept a cool head throughout this episode, which is a testament to her strong character and a desirable quality in a leader.
Has the Tory Party been transformed into a meritocracy overnight? During Mrs May’s first few days at the helm of the ship, it doesn’t seem to matter what your social background, age, ethnicity or gender is in order to be a member of the crew. History has been made on so many fronts over the last few weeks. But it is certainly harder to see history being made when you’re living through it. There is huge talent in this latest Tory cabinet and they can be a real success, especially if May can seize the centre ground of British politics that has been left vacated by her opponent across the dispatch box.
“I believe Mrs May has the courage and determination to lead the UK out of this predicament”
There is no doubt that this is a watershed moment for British politics and a potential turning point for the Conservative Party. It also cannot be disputed that 2016, so far, can only be described as a year of crisis for the UK. But if Mrs May can heal this country’s deep wounds, pick us up from what many believe to be our darkest hour and negotiate a favourable exit from the EU, she could go down in history as a truly great Prime Minister. There will be hard work involved and many obstacles along the way, but I believe Mrs May has the courage and determination to lead the UK out of this predicament and her legacy could be longer-lasting than even Mrs Thatcher’s in the Tory ranks. In short, this is a time for optimism, not just for Tory members, but for the country as a whole.
Image: U.S. Embassy London via Flickr